Mashhad is a city of 3.6 million people in northeast Iran. As the second largest holy city in the world, Mashhad is a focus for religious pilgrimage for Muslims and was named as “Iran’s Spiritual Capital,” attracting more than 20 million tourists and pilgrims annually. Many of these come to pay homage to the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Shi’ite Imam.
Mashhad is also a center of religious study for the country, with 39 seminaries and numerous Islamic schools. The Ferdowsi University attracts students from several surrounding nations.
Like the rest of Iran, Muslims in Mashhad practice Shi’ism, putting them at odds with most of their Arab State neighbors. While much overlap exists between the two divisions of the faith, there are substantial differences in rituals and interpretation of Islami law.
While the Iranian constitution recognizes three religious minorities, including Christians, persecution is frequent. Visibly carrying a bible is punishable by death, and there are stern laws against printing or importing bibles in the Farsi language.